KARACHI: It was a heartening moment when, at the end of the play The Iron Man at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Friday, the audience midway into applause decided to translate the gesture to silent visual applause by flapping their hands in the air instead of clapping.
This moment could very well be the start of a revolution of sorts, with theatre finally opening its doors to the marginalised and the disabled.
Students from the Ida Rieu School & College for the Deaf and Blind, JS Academy for the Deaf, and Deaf Reach School formed the cast of The Iron Man, which is an adaptation of British poet laureate Ted Hughes’ novel The Iron Man. Instead of being based in England as is the original story, the adaptation was set in Karachi.
Life is as usual in the metropolis when it is visited by a giant iron man whose hunger results in the devouring of structures far and wide.
This project, in collaboration with the British Council and the Graeae Theatre Company, the UK, saw Daryl Beeton directing a talented cast of deaf and disabled actors and musicians, putting together the performance within just seven days.
In attendance were beaming parents, young disabled children and deaf parents of bawling infants. And thus a range of mediums was employed to communicate with the diverse audience.
From Pakistan Sign Language, to live and recorded sounds, audio descriptions of the script as well as local songs were part of the offering. The use of shadows to further the narrative and show the destruction by the metal man was part of the set design and cleverly executed. The physical structure of The Iron Man was constructed with great attention to detail.
Director Daryl Beeton shared his pleasure at working with this cast of young people. “I really hope this is the start of something and such work continues in Karachi. We hand this project over to you to take it further.”
After the performance, a short panel discussion was then held in which the purpose behind the project as well as the journey thus far were discussed.
Graeae has been working to break down the restrictions put on the disabled specifically in theatre. They are challenging preconceptions and working tirelessly to place disabled artists centre stage in the UK.
Graeae’s Training and Learning Coordinator Jodi-Alissa Bickerton shared how they “felt the need to engage with teachers and artists in Pakistan first and foremost, and provide them with tools to work with disabled children.”
She also shared the challenge of working with three languages — English, Urdu and Pakistan Sign Language. “Translating the idea at various stages into these three languages required communication between all involved. If this is what the students pulled off within seven days, imagine what they can do after a six-month training course.”
According to Zain Ahmed, Napa has always tried to make performing arts as accessible and inclusive as possible. This project helped us to learn a lot in making theatre accessible. He also shared details about making the theatre design at Napa more accessible for the disabled, such as through ramps.
The production of The Iron Man should be staged again at Napa and open for public to help break down the barriers disabled artists face in the country.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2015